I see myself getting a headache every December, for that's when I vote for the year's best college football player and for those to gain entry into Cooperstown. For me the cruelest month of the year around here is not when the freezing weather comes in January and February. It's when the ballots come in December.

What do I do about Florida State's Jameis Winston? He is the quarterback of America's best college football team, at least the team ranked first right now. He has 3,490 yards, 35 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and enough praise as a player to overwhelm even Tony Robbins.

Winston has my vote, but I'll be sliding my ballot under the door without looking, not wanting to see what happens next. Within a couple of weeks, prosecutors have told us, they will make a decision on whether to charge Winston on sexual assault. If that's the case, that would happen after I submit my ballot next Monday, and after the Heisman winner is announced Dec. 14.

The Heisman winner doesn't have the same emotional cachet it did when I started voting for it 21 years ago. The NFL has come to dwarf America's sports landscape. Heisman winners are judged on what they do as pros. And I am not naming any names, Tim Tebow, but Heisman failures in pro football — rightly or wrongly — have diminished the award.

It's like NCAA is the minor leagues for the NFL.

A couple of days after the Heisman winner is announced, I predict more people still will be talking about the finish of last Saturday's Auburn-Alabama game than who won the Heisman. And they should.

That 109-yard touchdown return by Auburn of a missed field goal was unique, thrilling almost beyond description. It was the only moment I have seen in college football to rival the five-lateral finish of the 1982 Cal-Stanford Big Game.

That said, I still find a knot in my stomach as I vote for Winston. I'm not enjoying the thought that three months from now it's possible I will have voted for a convicted felon. Of course we don't know that. Heck, these are just allegations. He hasn't even been arraigned. Winston is innocent until proven guilty.

And why shouldn't we think there might be a plea deal in the works, something like Winston agreeing to spend 100 community-service hours at cleaning trash cans and supplying meals at a women's shelter. Do not be surprised if this sexual assault allegation disappears in the ether.

What if it doesn't? What if Winston is convicted? What if he goes to jail? What if he becomes a convicted felon? Should his name be removed as the Heisman winner?

O.J. Simpson is still the 1968 Heisman winner. Another USC running back, Reggie Bush, forfeited his Heisman victory and returned the trophy to the Heisman Trust.

Simpson was found innocent in a criminal trial for the slaying of his wife Nicole and her friend, Ronald Goldman. He was found liable, however, for a $33.5 million judgment in a wrongful death civil trial.

He is in prison after being found guilty on felony charges resulting from an armed robbery. As a former Heisman winner, Simpson still votes on the annual award, even though he submits his vote from prison.

Bush lost the award for accepting cash and other gifts.

Simpson is persona non grata. We wish he would go deep into the woods and never be seen again. Bush, meanwhile, has never been behind bars and is enjoying an acceptable NFL career.

So I ask: Which man disgraced the Heisman more?

Sure, Simpson committed his acts long after he left college; Bush committed his while still a student. But today's athlete is judged on his entire body of work. His life and his legacy didn't begin when he first played his sport, and it didn't end when he retired from it. People no longer look the other way. Back then they didn't ask questions, I suspect, because they were afraid of the answer.

So we built our heroes in a vacuum, found all the superlatives to make us comfortable with the worship. We kept the world out.

That was then. This is now. This is the Age Of Intrusion. The Internet makes it so. The vacuum has evaporated. We on the outside are now inside and we see it, warts and all.

So if FSU's Jameis Winston wins the Heisman Trophy and then finds himself in prison in 2014, we won't be shocked. We might not even be disappointed, dismayed or disillusioned.

We'll shrug. It's not like we haven't seen it before.

And that's the worst part of this story, that we aren't surprised at all.


You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.